In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

Previous Raisings of the 20th
The actual date of the raising of the 20th Light Dragoons was 1791 when Lieutenant-Colonel Farington Gardner was issued a letter authorising him to raise the regiment. But there were two previous raisings that only lasted 4 years each. The first one was raised during the Seven Years War (1756 - 63). The eight British dragoon regiments were ordered to raise a light Troop each and these were brigaded together for the raid on St Malo in June 1758. The success of the Light Cavalry Brigade prompted the raising of separate Light Dragoon regiments.

20th (Inniskilling) Light Dragoons 1759 - 1763

There are two accounts of the origin of the 20th (Inniskilling) Light Dragoons. L B Oatts in Emperor's Chambermaids says that the town of Enniskillen raised the regiment as a contribution to the war effort.
Lieutenant-General Richard Burton Philipson
Lieutenant-General Philipson
But Chichester and Burges Short in their Records and Badges of the British Army state that the regiment was raised from the Light Troop of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, and volunteers from other corps. The uniform was red coats with yellow facings but later changed to black facings. The regiment had 12 officers and 232 rank and file, organised into 4 Troops. It was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Caldwell Bt. The men were all Irish, there being no lack of recruits in Ireland. they did not go abroad but served in Ireland for the whole period of their existence until disbandment in 1763 when the Seven Years War ended.

20th Light Dragoons 1779 - 1783

The second incarnation of the 20th Light Dragoons occurred during the War of American Independence (1775-83) although the regiment remained in the UK. They were raised in 1779 at Bury St Edmunds from the Light Troops of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, 1st Royal Dragoons, 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, and the 11th Dragoons. They were employed on the coasts of East Anglia policing the operations of smugglers, or Free-traders as they were called. This made them rather unpopular but the job did not just prevent the influx of contraband but also made it difficult for French spies to enter the country. They were disbanded in 1783 when the Treaty of Versailles ended the war.

20th Jamaica Light Dragoons 1791 - 1802
The previous regiments of the 20th LD only lated 4 years each but the third raising lasted 27 years and is recognised as the forebear of the 20th Hussars who were reconstituted in May 1861 from the 2nd Bengal European Light Cavalry. This third raising was for service in the West Indies and was to be financed by the government of Jamaica. Colonel Henry Farington Gardner was authorised in 1791 to raise his regiment of 300 men in 4 Troops, but he was only able to get 3 recruits.The rest of the unit was obtained by transfer of men from the five regiments of light dragoons then in England, and the six regiments in Ireland. The regiment sailed to Jamaica in two wings, from Falmouth and Portsmouth during the summer of 1792, and eventually concentrated in Spanish Town in November. The planters of Jamaica grudgingly paid for the 20th Light Dragoons but considered that they already contributed to the British Exchequer, and that the security of the British Territories and Possessions should be financed by the mother country.

Yellow Fever 1792 - 93

The British government had paid for the recruitment and transport of the 20th to Jamaica but the costs of keeping the regiment there had to be met by the colonial government. Their pay and upkeep amounted to 27,000 pounds a year, on top of which horses had to be bought for them, 324 at 45 pounds each, 32 slaves at 70 pounds each etc. The regiment had arrived with a strength of 150 but they soon succumbed to yellow fever which killed 32 men, including the commanding officer, Colonel Farington Gardner, within 6 months. Half the officers were on sick leave and 47 rank and file were in hospital.

The Maroon Revolt 1795

The West Indies was at this time an increasingly dangerous region due to various factions fighting each other. In St Domingo the French were divided between those supporting the Revolution and those supporting the Royalists. There were black slaves and freed slaves called maroons employed by either side, and there were the British fighting against the French revolutionaries. A British invasion of St Domingo took place in Sep 1793 which did not involve the 20th LD, although Captain Rollo Gillespie volunteered for the expedition and distinguished himself there. The Maroon revolt, however, spread to the island of Jamaica and the Governor, Lord Belcarres needed the forces at his disposal to deal with it. The revolt centred around Montego Bay so a force of 130 men of the 18th and 20th LD under the command of Colonel Sandford, CO of the 20th, was despatched there. There were infantry units as well but on 12 Aug 1795 the cavalry in the vanguard bore the brunt of an ambush by the Maroons in bush country. Sandford and 14 dragoons were killed, and the attack had the cavalry pinned down until the 83rd Foot and Jamaica Militia were able to deploy and drive off the enemy. Thereafter the Maroons inflicted heavy casualties with their guerrilla tactics but were eventually hemmed in and force to surrender.

The Napoleonic Wars

Western Mediteranean, 1805

The 20th were relieved of their duty in Jamaica as the war with France drew to a close, and the Peace of Amiens was signed in 1802. The regiment were already in England when this happened, stationed at Ipswich. But the peace was unstable and the war resumed in May 1803. Three squadrons of the 20th were sent to the Mediterranean, without horses, passing by Nelson's Fleet off Cape St Vincent 5 months before the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. They landed at Gibraltar for several weeks and carried on to Malta for a 5 month stop. In October 1805 they sailed to Naples for a combined landing with the Russians. The 20th squadrons were given whatever horses that could be found and marched to the Neopolitan frontier. But news came of a 30,000 strong French army moving south, also news of the battle of Austerlitz which caused the Russians to lose heart. The British withdrew to Sicily and the French halted at Reggio across the Straits of Messina.

Battle of Maida, 4 July 1806

General John Stuart took over command of the British forces in Sicily, and with the co-operation of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, planned a raid on the French in southern Italy while the enemy were dispersed in different regions. It was an invasion with limited objectives as there was no grand plan to drive the French out of Italy. The French commander, General Reynier was taken by surprise when the British landed and managed to concentrate only 6,000 men at Pietro di Maida. The 20th were the only cavalry in the British force and it is not clear what part they played . There were only 16 dragoons because the transport ships were too few to take many horses. The two armies met on 4 July and after 15 minutes the French were defeated.

The Cape of Good Hope, 1806

The other two squadrons of the 20th LD were part of an expedition sent to South Africa to capture Cape Town from the Dutch who were now under French control. A convoy under Commodore Popham set off from Cork on 31 Aug 1805 and landed in Table Bay on 4 Jan 1806, having stopped off in Brazil to purchase horses for the 20th LD, and for the 3 batteries of artillery. Also on the expedition were 7 regiments of foot, all commanded by Sir David Baird. The 20th landed at Saldanha Bay, and were ordered to march on Cape Town. Baird disembarked with the Highland Brigade to deal with the Boers. The enemy soon capitulated so that by the time the 20th and artillery arrived, it was all over. This was a short but frustrating campaign as the trek from Saldanha was arduous due to the sickness of the horses after a ten day cramped sea voyage from Brazil. The men had to march on foot and the gunners had to haul their guns themselves. The expedition however was a success and the Cape of Good Hope was now a British possession.

First Battle of Buenos Aires, June 1806

Commodore Sir Home Popham, who had been ordered by the Admiralty to patrol the east coast of South America, organised an unauthorised raid on Buenos Aires in Argentina, following the capture of Cape Town.
Conquest of Buenos Aires Map, 1806
Conquest of Buenos Aires
Baird backed the plan but stayed in Cape Colony while General William Beresford took a small force consisting of the 71st Highlanders, four guns, and 6 men and an officer of the 20th Light Dragoons. The voyage from Cape Town to Rio de la Plata was long and difficult but the capture of Buenos Aires was accomplished easily at the end of June 1806. The city had a small population, only 45,000, and the military presence was very weak. The British plundered the Argentine treasury and divided it up so that Sir David Baird received 30,000 pounds, Popham 6,000 pounds and each soldier 18 pounds and 6 shillings. The author of Emperor's Chambermaids, L B Oatts doesn't say how much Beresford received but relates the consequences of the plundering of Buenos Aires: 'This was of course highly satisfactory, but unfortunately the Argentinians took a different view and when they discovered that they had been put to flight and had abandoned their capital city through an attack by little more than 1,600 men, their feeling of shame roused the whole country, and the small British force commanded by General Beresford was soon surrounded and hard-pressed.' The result was that after 46 days the British surrendered and were placed in captivity.
Viceroyalty of Buenos Aires Map, 1806
Viceroyalty of Buenos Aires

Maldonado, Oct 1806

In Cape Town the rest of the 2 squadrons of the 20th LD were at first ordered home to England, and handed over their horses to the 21st LD who had come out to the Cape to relieve them. But there was a change of plan when word reached them that Beresford's force was in danger. Baird organised reinforcements consisting of the 20th (without horses), the 21st (with horses), the 38th and 47th Regiments, a company of the 54th, and some guns. They arrived at the estuary of Rio de la Plata in October 1806 but had to wait before disembarking. The force was commanded by Colonel Backhouse who had decided to attack Maldonado at the mouth of the Estuary on the north side (now Uruguay). Commodore Popham, meanwhile was bombarding Montevideo with his two warships. On 29 Oct the troops landed and the 38th Regiment were instructed to engage the enemy, with the dismounted 20th LD on their left acting as light infantry. The grenadier company of the 38th spearheaded the attack and suffered heavy casualties. But the rest of the infantry pressed on, firing volleys, until the Argentinians fell back. The mounted 21st LD pursued, and Maldonado was captured. The British soldiers then went on a disgraceful rampage of looting and pillaging which was witnessed and described by Sergeant Landsheit in his book The Hussar.

Montevideo, Jan 1807

The 20th used their time in Maldonado to find horses, and once mounted they were able to round up cattle to feed the 2,000 troops garrisoned there. Meanwhile a force of 4,000 more men were arriving from England, under Sir Samuel Auchmuty. It was decided to attack Montevideo instead of Buenos Aires which was now well defended. They landed on 19 Jan 1807 covered by naval guns. There were heights in front of the town from which the Argentinians fired their guns at the approaching British army. Auchmuty ordered the cavalry to charge the guns before they could do much damage to his infantry. The 20th and 21st Light Dragoons made up the cavalry brigade along with some men of the 9th and 17th LD. There was some hesitancy, but urged on by Auchmuty, they charged and the 20th captured 3 guns after slashing their way through. The town itself was stormed on 3 Feb 1807 by the 40th and the 95th Rifle Regiment, also the 87th attacking the rear of the town. Auchmuty did not tolerate looting and the soldiers this time kept themselves in check.

Second Battle of Buenos Aires, July 1807

The British Government sent out General Whitelock with orders to attack Buenos Aires once more but his men were fighting against determined people, civilians as well as soldiers. The occupants of the houses would pour boiling water or oil onto the British and in the end they had to make terms with the Argentinians and evacuate their forces. The 20th did not take part in this battle and returned home in Sep 1807. The two squadrons sailed home in separate ships and one of them was sadly wrecked off the Needles with only a few survivors.

Anglo-Turkish War 1807 - 1809

Alexandria, 16 Mar 1807

The French had been beaten in Egypt in 1801 but the British had pulled out in 1803 so that the Ottoman Turks were able to take over. It was feared that the French could easily persuade the Turks to allow them back into Egypt so an expedition was sent, under the command of Major-General Mackenzie-Fraser. It numbered 6,000 men and one squadron of cavalry, which was the 20th Light Dragoons, 4 officers and 74 men. After embarkation at Messina in Sicily, the army, with wives and children had to wait on board for nearly a month until the naval escort arrived. The voyage to Egypt was fraught with difficulty and the convoy was broken up in a storm so that only 14 out of 33 ships arrived at Alexandria on 16 Mar 1807. It was difficult to land because of the rough sea but 1,000 men plus the 20th LD got ashore which was enough to assault the city with its garrison of 300 Turks. When the missing ships finally turned up the defenders capitulated.

El Hamid, 1 Apr 1807

Mackenzie-Fraser then decided to attack Rosetta and Rahmanieh forty miles away. These two towns were occupied by Albanians, and they proved to be more than a match for the force of 1,600 infantry sent against them on 31 March. The British were driven out having lost 500 men. The next attempt was on 1 April with 2,500 men including the squadron of the 20th. This time the opposing forces met at El Hamid, 4 miles south of Rosetta. Fraser was expecting help from the Mamelukes, no friends of the Turks and their allies, but they failed to show up. At El Hamid the enemy were mostly Albanian cavalry but they ran off after exchanging shots with the 20th. The village was occupied by a 300 detachment of the infantry while the main force carried on to Rosetta.

Rosetta, April 1807

At Rosetta the Royal Artillery battered the walls with heavy guns and mortars and the Albanians fired back. The 20th were responsible for keeping an eye on the gates for sorties which happened several times but were dealt with. Turkish reinforcements were on their way to relieve the defenders so it was imperative to finish the siege quickly but Albanian-held Rosetta proved a hard nut to crack and the siege dragged on for a fortnight. When the Turks did arrive on 19 April they attacked El Hamid, and the Albanians took advantage of the distraction to make another sortie. The 20th were ordered to engage with the Turkish cavalry but they were hopelessly outnumbered. They were cut off and overpowered. One man and 6 horses were killed, and the squadron leader, Captain Delaney, the surgeon, and 11 men were captured. The rest of the squadron had dismounted and formed a square. Their situation was desperate as most of their horses had been captured. Private Tremble was sent off on a forlorn hope mission to get help. They didn't expect to see him again, but he hacked his way through and managed to bring two companies of infantry to the rescue. However, the rest of the force had to make a fighting withdrawal and 800 were either killed of captured. There was a grisly scene in Cairo where captives were paraded long the street lined with the heads of British soldiers on spikes. The retreat to Alexandria ended the campaign and the army sailed back to Sicily. Fortunately the Turkish Caliph, Muhammed Ali released the prisoners, who had not been mistreated.

Peninsular War 1808 - 1814

Portugal 1808

The 20th Light Dragoons were in England in 1808, having brought together the Troops from Sicily and those that survived the voyage home from South America. A depot squadron of two Troops was set up at Maidstone while the regiment was organised in 4 Troops for embarkation to Portugal, made up of 13 officers, 368 men and 215 horses. Sir Arthur Wellesley was chosen as the commander of the army of 11,000 which sailed from Cork on 13 July 1808, landing at Mondego Bay. There they were joined by 4,000 more men from Gibraltar bringing Wellesley's army up to 15,000. The 20th were reinforced by the addition of the Lisbon Mounted Police who formed their own squadron. The regiment was part of a light brigade incorporating battalions of the Rifle Brigade and 60th Rifles, acting as an advance guard. The 20th's first sighting of the French army was at Brilos but the enemy withdrew without a fight. The riflemen suffered heavy losses at Rolica on 17 August, a battle that, although the 20th was present, did not involve cavalry as the ground was unsuitable. The French retreated, covered by their cavalry which was too numerically strong to be attacked by the 20th.

Vimiera, 20 Aug 1808

Wellesley's men took up positions at Vimiera to cover the disembarkation of two brigades of reinforcements at the mouth of the river Maceira. Also with this fleet was Sir Harry Burrard who outranked Wellesley and was to prove a hindrance to Wellesley's plans. The french army, under Junot, was concentrating at Torres Vedras. The 20th were bivouacked on Vimiera Hill and had to spend the night patrolling in the direction of the expected French advance. Sergeant Landsheit writes in his memoirs that he led one these patrols and it was he that first sighted the French. He galloped back to report to Wellesley and found his HQ at midnight: '...with a large staff, all of them seated on a long table in the hall, back to back, and swinging their legs to and fro, like men on whose minds not a shadow of anxiety rested.'

The Battle of Vimiera, 21 Aug 1808

The army was immediately roused by Wellesley following Landsheit's report, and two brigades were positioned on Vimiera Hill, the rest of the army were behind two ridges to the north of the hill. Wellesley's tactics invariably involved keeping his men out of sight to thwart the opposition's strategy. The 20th were in the valley, with the village of Vimiera to their right front. The French arrived at 7am on 21 Aug and the main thrust of Junot's attack was against Fane's Brigade on Vimiera Hill. The 20th were the only cavalry at the battle, but they were left to stand and watch as the infantry slugged it out. The CO of the 20th was Colonel Charles Taylor, spending what was to be the last morning of his life in a state of frustration that his men were forced to stand idle while heavy fighting was going on all around them. Taylor made several rides up the hill to plead for his men to go into battle. But Brigadier Fane did not want his battle messed about by cavalry.

20th Light Dragoons
The French columns were getting the worst of it, and when Kellerman's composite reserve brigade of French grenadiers went in and were also driven off, Fane at last shouted, "Now we want you, 20th! Forward and charge! And show them what you are made of." As the regiment came up the slope, into view of the British infantry, it was given a rousing reception. Having been plagued all day by the French cavalry galloping about, the infantry had been wondering where their own was. It was with their cheers ringing in their ears that the 20th formed column of half-squadrons and, with a Troop of Portuguese policemen on either flank, bore down on the French grenadiers, some of whom were broken and disorganised, some retreating in good order. The 20th rode through them and came out the other side to face 1,000 of the enemy cavalry commanded by General Margaron. They were Dragoons and Chasseurs, in some disorder and unprepared to receive a charge of cavalry moving at great speed towards them. The 20th ploughed into this mass of horsemen, 'cutting and hacking, and upsetting men and horses in the most extraordinary manner possible, till they broke and fled in every direction.'

For most of Wellesley's military career he had held the opinion that cavalry were not to be trusted to control themselves once they had achieved their objective. This view was reinforced at Vimiera when Colonel Taylor's men broke clear of the opposing French cavalry and carried on to pursue some retiring columns of infantry. The regiment was now scattered and out of control as they galloped towards the Frenchmen. Taylor's thoroughbred had the bit between its teeth and was in the lead, but a French corporal raised his musket and shot the colonel dead. His fate was unnoticed by the others as they were concentrating on the task ahead and cutting at enemy soldiers. The 20th jumped a a low fence as bayonets were thrust into their horses, and found themselves in a field surrounded by the enemy.

One man, Corporal Marshall, was fighting off four French dragoons with his sword and with his horse's hooves. Luckily the troopers were rescued by the intervention of the 50th Regiment, and were saved from annihilation. As the survivors formed up on the road leading to Torres Vedras they made quite a contrast with the Portuguese mounted policemen; the men of the 20th were covered in blood, their own and their enemy's, while the policemen who had backed out early in the charge, were still in a relatively spotless condition. The roll call revealed that the CO, one captain and 53 rank-and-file failed to answer. Twenty of these had been killed, and 42 wounded. The others were missing and some rejoined later. Thirty horses had been killed and 10 wounded. Colonel Taylor's body was found, stripped by local people. But Vimiera was a victory for the British/Portuguese alliance and brought the 20th their first battle honour.

Battle of Grijo, 11 May 1809

20th Light Dragoons
The Hon Charles Stewart
In Wellesley's army in Portugal the Light Cavalry Brigade, in April 1809, consisted of the 14th,16th and 20th Light Dragoons. Two Squadrons of the 20th were still in Sicily. When Wellesley marched towards Oporto to confront the French under Soult, the only cavalry he had was the Light Brigade due to the fact that forage was scarce. On 7 May there was to be a link-up with two infantry brigades landing at Ovar. The country they were going through was difficult for cavalry, being rocky and enclosed so that they had to stick to the roads and tracks. They could not get ahead of the infantry so a halt was called at Oliviera. Two squadrons were sent forward, one from the 20th the other from the 16th LD, all under the command of Major Blake of the 20th. They were on a narrow track that forced them to ride in single file, and about to emerge from a wood near Grijo. A staff officer ordered them to stop as there was ground ahead held by a strong force of French infantry. The 16th were at the front and turned around but the 20th were ordered by a general officer, Brigadier General Hon Charles Stewart, at their rear, to carry on forward. Blake was unable to leave the track to deal with the situation but managed to persuade the 16th to carry on forward. When they came upon the French infantry they realised that there were around 3,000 of them. The enemy assumed that the light squadrons were the advance guard of a larger force and did not at first put up much resistance. Many prisoners were taken and many more killed before the French realised how they outnumbered the dragoons. Then the squadrons had a proper fight on their hands and sustained heavy casualties. Two officers and 19 men were killed, 6 officers and 63 men were wounded in this battle. The Brigadier who had sent so many to their deaths was the same Charles Stewart who also led the party the other side of the Douro with great success on 12 May.

Return to Sicily, 23 June 1809

The 20th left the Peninsula soon after this. The cavalry were reorganised and they were relieved by the 23rd Light Dragoons on 23rd June 1809. They were sent to Sicily to join the other two squadrons that had remained there. But that was not the end of their involvement in the Peninsular War, they returned to Spain in August 1812.

Eastern Mediterranean
20th Light Dragoons

Ischia, 21 June 1809

Italy was dominated by the French, and the British thought to exploit any resistance by the Italian population in the same way that Portuguese and Spanish resistance to French control was aided in the Peninsula. The Royal Navy was in control of the Mediterranean so it was not difficult to make raids on the coast of Italy. Admiral Collingwood urged General Sir John Stuart to make a decision about which part of Italy to attack and the island of Ischia, outside the Bay of Naples, was chosen. A force as put together, consisting of 13,000 troops which included the 20th Light Dragoons. This force was mostly British but included 700 Neapolitans. They set off from Milazzo in northeast Sicily on 11 June 1809. The horses suffered badly in the heat on board the ships, which took 13 days to cover 200 miles due to lack of decent wind. The cavalry weren't needed for the invasion; that was accomplished by the light infantry, the neighbouring island of Procida also. Murat sent troops over but they were intercepted by the Navy. When Collingwood heard that a fleet was being prepared at Toulon he advised Stuart to pull out. Stuart was happy to comply as he worried about a French invasion of Sicily. The island was finally evacuated on 26 July and they reached Milazzo 3 days later. The positive results of the invasion were the capture of ships, prisoners and armaments.

The Ionian Islands, 16 Oct 1809

Sir John Stuart, not a proactive commander, was happy to stay in Sicily, but Admiral Collingwood urged him on to a further adventure; to capture the islands of Cephalonia and Zante (Zakinthos) in the Ionian Sea off the west coast of Greece. These were occupied by the French since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 but the Navy wanted a harbour there to keep an eye on Corfu. Only one Troop of the 20th sailed with this expedition, without horses. The invasion was carried out in Oct 1809 and the two main islands were captured without too much difficulty. Garrisons were set up and the islands of Ithaca and Santa Maura (Lefkas) were occupied a few months later. The Troop of the 20th remained in garrison on Zante, and SirJohn Stuart returned to Sicily where the rest of the 20th were quartered in Messina. They remained on Zante until 1815 in which year the British began their 49 year rule of the Ionian Islands.

Return to the Peninsula 1812
The Commander-in-Chief in Sicily was Lord William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck who became Colonel of the 20th Light Dragoons in Jan 1813. He was ordered to send troops, in 1812, to land on the east coast of Spain to divert the French under Marshal Suchet from marching north from Valencia. Bentinck's pet project was removing the French from Italy, so it was with reluctance that he sent a force of 7,000 men to Barcelona. This force included a squadron of 167 men of the 20th, with their horses. But having anchored in the Bay of Blanes, and heading for the beach on the horse-landing craft they were fired on by the French and it was decided to land elsewhere. They sailed on to Alicante where the landing was unopposed. The force, commanded by General Maitland, without doing very much, had the effect of preventing the armies of Soult and Suchet from combining against Wellington. As far as the men of the 20th were concerned, the remaining months of 1812 were spent mostly on outpost duty, with occasional skirmishes in only one of which, at Vicente on 17 Aug, were any casualties sustained.

Castalla 12 - 13 April 1813

The allied force based in the region around Alicante was, from Feb 1813, commanded by Sir John Murray, but the Spanish and Italian elements caused him to have little confidence in the army's chances against the French under Suchet. He concentrated his army at Castalla, and the 20th spent some weeks on fatigue duties there. On 11 April the French advanced towards Alicante and the cavalry were sent against them. Besides the 20th there were the Brunswick Hussars and a regiment called the Foreign Hussars, recruited in Sicily and commanded by Captain Jacks of the 20th and Sergeant Landsheit, also of the 20th. These units added up to 400 light cavalry. They were supported by infantry of mixed nationalities. They encountered the French at Vallena, and the Pass of Biar where a stand was made to give Murray time to form up in front of Castalla. They were forced back after some hard fighting and joined up with Murray's regiments so that the French decided to retreat. But the cavalry were too exhausted to pursue them.

Siege of Tarragona, June 1813

In May 1813 Murray was ordered by Wellington to embark 10,000 men to lay siege to the fortress of Tarragona, 50 miles southwest of Barcelona. With Spanish reinforcements he actually took 17,000 troops at the end of May, including 828 cavalry from the 3 units that fought at Castalla. They embarked and landed 8 miles southwest of the fortress. The cavalry marched around Tarragona and established a line of picquets on the north side while the infantry dug in and built batteries on the west side of Fort Royal. But there was a problem with the commander of the force, Sir John Murray. He lost his nerve and began a series of unnecessary embarkations and disembarkations. It was especially hard work for the cavalry loading and unloading their horses. They did have one job to perform on 11 June when they were sent off to Altafulla which was held by Spaniards but under threat from 10,000 Frenchmen. It transpired that the French column had turned back at Villa Franca, and returned to Barcelona. Another false alarm occurred at Bandellos when the detachment at Balaguer reported 3,000 French on their right flank. Murray was in the middle of another embarkation but pulled them off the boats to go to Bandellos where they found the French had been withdrawn. Murray was replaced by Lord William Bentinck, and eventually court-martialled after the siege ended in farce.

Villa Franca, 13 Sep 1813

The besieging force sailed back to Alicante and marched north to have another attempt at Tarragona. But the French had destroyed the defences there and retired to the line of the Llobretat River. Bentinck advanced to Villa Franca and sent Colonel Adam to hold the pass at Ordal. This was the scene of bitter fighting when Suchet attacked Adam's force and overwhelmed them. Battle lines were then drawn at Villa Franca but the approaching French prompted the allies to retreat. The 20th and the Brunswick Hussars were kept busy covering the withdrawal. The French cavalry, 2,000 strong, formed up to charge the infantry but the 20th and Brunswicks charged them first even though they were outnumbered 3 to 1. Their horses were in a poor condition but they forced their way into the French, and a melee ensued with frantic cutting and hacking at each other. The cavalry were led this time by Lord Frederick Bentinck, brother of Lord William. He engaged in single combat with the French General Meyer and wounded, and unhorsed him. This caused the French cavalry to withdraw, but they came back and were stopped by the 10th Foot. Suchet broke off the fight and withdrew soon after this. The 20th lost 8 men killed in the battle, including a captain and a sergeant. Four sergeants and 23 men were wounded, six men and 24 horses were missing. The Brunswick Hussars had 53 casualties. The 20th remained in Tarragona until December 1814 when they sailed to Sicily.

The Gulf of Genoa, March - April 1814

Lord William Bentinck left Spain and returned to Palermo where there were 4 Troops of the 20th. During the latter period of the Napoleonic Wars the 20th had been dispersed between Spain, Sicily, the Ionian Islands and the depot at Maidstone. The 4 Sicily Troops were sent on an expedition to the Gulf of Genoa on the instructions of Bentinck who still nursed an ambition to liberate Italy from French control. General Montresor commanded the force that first went to Livorno (Leghorn) on 10 Mar 1814, from where the 20th rode north through Pisa and Lucca to Sarzana. The French were on the River Magro but were not inclined to fight. There was a siege of Fort Santa Maria in the Gulf of Spezia, and then Bentinck arrived and ordered an advance on Genoa. The regiment took part in actions at Sestri on 8 April and Nervi on the 12th. On 17 April they were involved in a more serious battle in the suburbs of San Martino and forced to jump many walls and fences. The French retreated into Genoa and a siege began, but the enemy surrendered on 21 April. In May they returned to Sicily and were joined, in December, by the Squadron that had served in Spain since August 1813.

Disbandment, Dec 1818
At some point in late 1814 or early 1815 the 20th Light Dragoons were posted to Malta so that they missed out on the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. They returned to Britain and their strength reduced to peacetime establishment which brought its numbers down to below 500. They went to Ireland in 1817 and were disbanded in December 1818. In his book The Hawks, a Short History of the 14th/20th Hussars, Bryan Perrett asserts that many men of the disbanded regiment enlisted in the service of the East India Company thus providing a 'thread of continuity' with the 20th Hussars who were reconstituted from the 2nd Bengal European Light Cavalry.
20th Light Dragoon Badges
Commanding Officers
1759 - 1819
1759 - 1819
1759 - 1819
1759 - 1819
1759 - 1819
Peninsular War 1808-14


175920th Inniskilling Light Dragoons (disbanded 1763)
177920th Light Dragoons (disbanded 1783)
179120th Jamaica Light Dragoons
180220th Light Dragoons (disbanded 1819)
Successor Units
186020th Light Dragoons
186020th Hussars
192214th/20th Hussars
193614th/20th King's Hussars
1992The King's Royal Hussars
14th/20th Hussars Museum
Museum of Lancashire
Stanley Street
tel: 01772 534075
Suggested Reading
British Forces in the West Indies 1793 - 1815
by Rene Chartrand (Osprey 1996)

The Hussar (1845 Edition)
by Sergeant Norton Landsheit (Pickle Partners Publishing )

The Emperor's Chambermaids The Story of the 14th/20th King's Hussars
by Lt-Col L B Oatts DSO (Ward Lock 1973)

The Hawks, A Short History of the 14th/20th King's Hussars
by Bryan Perrett (Picton 1984)

Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe